This was a bad idea. I was sneaking out the back door in my jeans and baggy jumper with my hair tied up in a messy bun. It was 1am, and I was about to meet Jacob at the worst possible place to be in the middle of the night. It didn’t scare me so much anymore. I had done it enough times when I was younger than I was now, but I still would have been more comfortable in my bed.
I was wide awake now though, with my phone in my pocket and my eyes on the footpath. It was dark, but the streetlamps had flickered to life and the full moon was bright and shining.
I made it off my street where the streetlamps became scarce, and I had to rely on the light from the moon and my own memory of the path to get there. Prillis Lane was close to my house, but it was a long, narrow road that took me five minutes to walk from one end of to where I was going.
There were two thoughts circulating my head.
One: was I really about to do this? Jacob was one of my friends and as one of my friends, he deserved to know. But was I prepared for him to see me like that? I knew from the moment the clock flicked over to 12am that I would be a mess, whether I went at 1am or 7am like I had planned.
So I figured I might as well kill two birds with one stone, go now and tell Jacob while I’m at it.
I just hoped it wouldn’t change anything between us.
I made it to the corner of Prillis Lane where the streetlamps were flickering. There weren’t even the usual noises of the nocturnal wildlife that comforted me in the early hours of the morning. It was still, silent, breathless.
Then I saw it, the corner of the block which sent a shiver down my spine. Over the low metal fence I saw all the different shapes of stone, concrete, sticking out from the earth like unnatural trees. The big crucifix stone came into sight and then so did the big, black metal gates, and a car in front of them.
I upped my pace to close the distance and when I did, the car turned off and out stepped Jacob. His worry filled eyes drifted between the gates and me as I stopped beside him, looking into the yard.
“What are we doing here?” They were his first words, quiet and barely audible. I think it was something to do with where we were that made you feel like you needed to speak in whispers. The same feeling you get when you walk into a library, but that was to not disturb the librarians. Not to not disturb the dead.
I slid my hand into his as my answer and began to lead him through the yard, sticking to the damp stone paths where the grass and roots were sprawled out onto.
As I had done many times before, I went to the back fence, took a left and then another, and then I was there.
My breath caught in my throat and my cheeks were already wet. I squeezed Jacob’s hand to keep strong and looked at the gravestone, the elegant writing so familiar I could recite it without a second thought.
In loving memory of Andrew and Louise Sawyer. Loving parents, eventful lives, tragic end.
“Is this…?” His voice was just a whisper, a reflex when speaking in the land of the dead. My heart clenched as I nodded.
I couldn’t form a single word. What are you supposed say when you find out your friend’s parents have died? I’m sorry was not enough, but there was no other way I could express my apologies. There were no words in this language or another that could possibly convey what I wanted to say to her.
My eyes drifted from the tombstone to Kaia, who had silent tears running down her cheeks.
“What happened?” I breathed and she hiccupped, and sighed. She moved like a ghost under the moonlight, her steps so soft to sit beside her parents’ tombstone. She didn’t care about the damp grass or really anything, for that matter. She looked lost. Broken. And I wanted to comfort her but what was I to say? Sometimes though, you don’t need words. You just need to be there for them with all of your heart because no amount of words is going to make them feel any better. And that’s what I would do.
She stayed quiet and I sat with her, my hand somehow finding hers in the dark where we stayed until she was ready.
“My parents,” she started, her voice thick just at their mention. “They always used to go on holidays. Just for one or two days to get away from their busy lives. I used to think it was a great idea, something I would do when I was older.”
Her gaze moved to the grave and another hiccup escaped her throat.
“Five years ago, they were going to Fiji for the weekend, leaving one Friday night after they finished work, only to stop shortly at home to get their bags and say goodbye to us. Mum had this thing where every day, she asked us what we were grateful for. That day, I was grateful for a chocolate bar I had been awarded at school for winning a competition, I forget what. She laughed. It was such a pretty sound, something I wished I’d inherited.” She had a ghost of a smile playing with her lips, but it wasn’t a happy one. It was heart-breaking. “She kissed my forehead and said one day, you’ll see there are more things to be grateful for, and then she got into the car.
“Dad was next. He had scooped me up into his arms and squeezed me so hard my lungs felt like they would burst. He kissed my cheek and set me down. There is nothing to be grateful for more than chocolate, he winked, and then got in the car with my mum. They wound down the windows calling I love you until they were out of the street.”
She paused, running a hand through her hair and taking deep breaths. It was almost as if she was going to stop there, unable to finish the story. I wouldn’t have blamed her, I think part of me wished she would. Because then I would feel her pain and all that she went through. But that was selfish of me, and I wanted to know what happened. I needed to know. And she needed to talk about it.
“We had fun without them,” she continued, her voice an ounce brighter. “I mean, who doesn’t when their parents leave them home alone? We ate junk food, stayed up late, played a ton of games, all knowing that mum and dad would be home on Sunday night to tuck us into bed.
“None of us could sleep, all so excited to see them again. Even Atlas who was too old to need to be tucked into bed. But they weren’t home at eight, like they were meant to be. I remember having my eyes glued to the clock all night. Midnight passed. And then one. Two. Three. They still weren’t home.” She took a shaky breath and closed her eyes shut, a single tear sliding down her cheek. “There were policemen and my grandmother on the doorstep on Monday morning. Nanna’s eyes were watering which never happened and it was then that I knew. It all clicked.
“Their plane crashed on the way there, on an island between here and Fiji. There were no survivors.”
And just like her wall fell away and there was Kaia, the girl with the broken heart and a torn up world. She had gone through something no child should have to go through when they were that young. I couldn’t begin to comprehend losing one of my parents, let alone both of them. They were the people who shaped me into the person I am today, who still correct me when I’m wrong and help me grow as a person.
Kaia didn’t have that.
“Sometimes I come out here and sit with them and just ask myself, why am I still here? What’s the point of being on an earth that makes me so miserable when I could be happy with them? In heaven or wherever you go when you die. I could be happy, and I don’t think it’s something I can be here. Not anymore.”
I closed my eyes, trying to refuse what my brain was telling me she was saying. I gently slid my fingers under her chin to get her to look at me.
“You can be happy here,” I whispered, catching a tear before it fell. I let my hand drop but she didn't look away.
“I don’t see how.”
I took a deep breath and tried to hold myself together. I had to stay strong for her.
“There was a story I heard when I was little, of a princess who’s family was killed by a dragon. She was so lost when she discovered she was the only one who had survived, and for years her country was led astray because she couldn’t do anything. She couldn’t drag herself out of bed or to the kitchen for food.” I laid back on the grass and looked up at the stars, Kaia lying down with me, her head on my arm and her hand still twined with mine.
“But then one day, a wizard came to the palace in search of who had come to be known as the lost princess. He found her in her bed with tear stained cheeks and sat on the edge of her bed. He told her this: my sweet girl, you are denying how you feel. To move past this, you need to accept the pain, accept that your family are gone. He pointed out the window where the sky was filled with stars, making her follow his gaze. When loved ones pass on, they feature as part of the night sky. To you, there will be three stars that shine the brightest, one for each of the family members you lost. Talk to them like you would if they were sitting right beside you. It won’t ever be the same, but it’s a start to moving on. So that’s what she did and guess what? She got better. She could move on and still have her family with her every day in her heart.”
I wished Mutti was here so that she could tell it; she was so much better at it than I was. I don’t even think I got it right, but Kaia didn’t seem to care. My eyes flicked over to her and she had a sad smile on her lips.
“Yeah but she was probably blonde and had a prince to come save her from her despair and distract her from her internal torment,” she debated and I chuckled despite myself, shaking my head at the girl beside me.
“Well, yes. But now that I think about it, the prince was kind of a dickhead.”
Her forehead creased. “I think it’s blasphemy to use that word in a graveyard.”
“The point is,” I said, softly rubbing circles on the back of her hand. “There will be something or someone that comes along someday that will make you realize that you can do this. For the mean time, it will hurt. And maybe it will always hurt. The pain might not ever get better or be less painful, but you will be stronger.”
She took her time to think about it, her eyes staying on the sky above us. Maybe she was looking for her parents in the sky, or maybe she thought my story was complete bullshit and she was just enjoying the pretty view. But after contemplation she sighed, turning on her side to face me.
“Since when did you get so wise?”
“I’ve only been trying to tell you that for weeks now,” I responded sarcastically, and she just gave me a light shove and a groan.
“You’re not supposed to mock the grieving!”
“I’m not mocking, I’m supporting,” I whispered and she just nodded, but then sat and made it to her feet. She turned and held her hands out to me, as if to help me up. I just shook my head and stood, looking down at her with concern.
“Will you be okay?” I asked, and then without thinking about it wrapped my arms around her waist and pulled her towards me.
I felt her nod against me but she didn’t seem to believe it. “I just need to find my prince.”
“You will,” I whispered against her hair, liking the way it smelled, kind of like vanilla and strawberries in such a dark, sad place.
I don’t know how long we stayed like that but eventually she got cold and was ready to go home so she stood in front of her parents grave and told them she’d be back in the morning, before leading me out of the graveyard and to my car.
I climbed in and turned the key in the ignition, but didn’t go anywhere. I pulled my phone out of my pocket and plugged it into the AUX, playing a song I needed her to listen to on the way home.
Now the night is coming to an end,
The sun will rise and we will try again.
Stay alive, stay alive for me,
You will die, but now your life is free,
Take pride in what is sure to die.
I will fear the night again,
I hope I’m not my only friend.
Stay alive, stay alive for me,
You will die, but now your life is free,
Take pride in what is sure to die.
I pulled up in front of her house just as the music stopped. She had that same small smile on her face as she looked over at me, her eyes telling me thank you.
I got out of the car and walked her to her door. She grabbed her keys and jingled them in the door, opening it just a crack.
Just when I thought she was going to leave she hugged me, wrapping her arms around my middle as if her life depended on it.
“Maybe you can be my prince,” I heard her whisper against my chest before she quickly pulled away and disappeared into her house. I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to hear that but I did and there was nothing changing that.
Maybe I could be her prince, the one to save her from her despair.
Or maybe I could be her prince, the one whowas actually a prince and could be hers.